Macbeth the Usurper

Prostitution as a Means of Family Planning

Does prostitution constitute a method of family planning?

If a man doesn't want more children, then instead of having sex with his wife, he has sex with a prostitute, so any children aren't his economic problem. The family stays fixed in size, but the wife has a somewhat sexless life. That situation sounds a great deal like Victorian London, where the women were often sex starved and the number of brothels was astonishing.

This process also keeps down birthrates in general. A woman can only get pregnant once every nine months, so all the extra sex that she has with all those partners usually produces no children. By becoming a generic sink, the prostitute ensures that most sexual activity produces no offspring. Thus, prostitution should decrease the overall birth rate.

Does that really hold up? Is this already a theory? I don't know, but I do find the idea fascinating. It really helps to explain certain social behavior, and why this behavior was tolerated. If a woman doesn't want more offspring, but she also doesn't want a drain on her family's resources because her husband has a mistress, then tolerating a far smaller economic drain via sex workers becomes a prudent strategy. It effectively create a social firewall against any incurred genetic obligation.

Once effective birth control comes into play, this strategy dissipates because it allows also more sex inside monogamy, thus safely reducing family size, while also allowing women to move into non-monogamy.

Note that a similar sort of strategy works on the upper economic levels. A ruler wants male children, but he doesn't want too many children as this will cause problems, so he has some children by his proper wife (who are heirs to the money and titles), but he also begets children on other women, his mistresses, who have no claim to his lands or money. In this respect, marriage acts as a resource firewall. Presumably, the economic drain of a mistress is less than the economic strife of too many heirs or too many dowries.
Macbeth the Usurper

The Swordbearer (1982)

The Swordbearer (1982) by Glen Cook is the dark fantasy version of a YA novel. If you know Glen's writing style, you'll recognize the disaster about to unfold. Unlike most YA novel, this one gets the inherent fantasy of boys and young men to murderously destroy all their opponents through powerful weapons and getting all the power.

The book itself progresses well enough until the middle, where the story bogs down and becomes just as series of events. Despite all the battles and all the addition of more powerful magic equipment, all momentum is lost. The powerful magic items becomes meaningless. The conflict becomes meaningless. Even our hero becomes meaningless. (In fact, the conflict is meaningless, which only adds to the meaninglessness that already exists.)

While this story is an interesting direction to take the unwilling hero story, it's a direction that shouldn't be repeated. It's a mediocre tale, one filled with themes that will to on to make his Dread Empire and Black Company stories ring like steel.
Macbeth the Usurper

State of the Author

I read somewhere that we present idealized portrayals of ourselves in social media. Let me take that notion and dare to step beyond.


Fuck this.

No, that doesn't mean that I'm giving up, but gawd-fucking-damn, fuck this.

I feel ineffective. I feel pointless. I feel frustrated. I do my best to write the best books that I can, only to see them sit there. I can't sell these fucking this.

Marketing, you say. Fuck that, too. No, I don't mean don't do it, I mean that's like saying, "fission, just do it!" You might have an idea of how to reach critical mass, but I have no clue. For me, there is no "just do it."

Take out ads? They won't take my money until I've already done all the right things, already done all the hard marketing by hand. Do my books look like they have a pile of reviews, let alone positive reviews? No? Yeah, I thought so. If you don't meet the prerequisites, they ad places won't take your money.

Network, you say. With who?

I'm sure somewhere, in all that good advice, there is the one right answer, and if I knew which it was among all my possible choices, or the alchemy of choices that I have to make, I'd take it, but I don't know. I do not know absolutely. I must put continuous energy into best guesses, only to guess wrong, or even worse, guess not quite right.

Have any platitudes? Shove it. This isn't asking asking for help, it's about venting stress over my endeavors. By offering platitudes, you say to me, "Your feelings are wrong and we can fix them." No, my feeling are perfectly normal. That's why I'm expressing them, so others out there who want to feel normal can find me ranting and say, "Yay, I'm normal!"
Macbeth the Usurper

Superman 4 : The Quest for Peace (1987)

I went into Superman 4 (1987) expecting to see a total train wreck of a film. Instead, what I found was a mostly pleasant Superman film with some issues, but far fewer issues than Superman 3.

Was the film really that bad? No, it wasn't.

Valiantly, the script reached for what worked in the first two Superman films. For the most part, it touched its mark.

In the cultural zeitgeist, it chose the themes: nuclear weapons, corporate takeovers, tabloid journalism, and greed. Recall that the 80's was the era of greed. "Greed is good." With a nuclear summit breaking down, a boy asks Superman to solve the nuclear problem. Meanwhile, the Daily Planet has been subject to a hostile takeover and turned into a sleezy tabloid.

Overall, I found the setup acceptable, the pacing good, the procession of events clear, the acting appropriately stylized, with enough twists and turns in the plot to keep keep our hero jumping.

That's not so say that the film entirely work. There was a better film here at one point but it suffered under two problems. By my best guess (and this is a guess): 1) the production didn't get enough budget, and 2) the suits demanded that a 120 minute film be cut down to 90 minutes.

I'll be honest here. The early film works, but there are place where it gets choppy later on. I'm positive that too much of the film was removed to make the studio executives happy. This being the 80's, that's a good bet on my part as film were being released to fit neatly into 2 TV hour slots (with commercials). Yeah, it was a thing. Look it up. (Don't take my word for it.)

The other area where the film suffered were the special effects. The miniature work remained excellent, but the bluescreen work looked uninspired.

Taken together, Superman 4 is a middle-weight 80's action flick. Nothing special, but nothing really terrible, either. Competent, if uninspired. So what changed? Why is this Superman film so reviled above all others?

I blame Frank Miller.

In 1986, Frank Miller rocked the comic world with The Dark Knight Returns. An increasingly specialized comic market fell in love with this grittier Batman and gritter Superman. The comics fans now wanted different fare. Now that they've read Frank Miller, how do you keep the kids in Metropolis?

The message that Superman 4 brought was the exact opposite of the comic fan base. This is a film founded in idealism and hope. The fight scenes weren't realistic, they were based on those crazy things Superman did back in the 50's and 60's, where physics were optional. S4 is literally a world-wide fight to save the world from nuclear destruction. S4 is the exact opposite of what the cynical 80's comic market wanted. S4 represented the sort of comic that the comic market now considered cheezy and bad, a low point in DC comics. Thus, S4 was bad. And once fan boys start piling on, you either agree or get pummeled. Thus, S4 became a whipping boy for comics fandom.

Meanwhile, the culture that needed Superman in 1978 didn't need Superman now. When Superman: The Movie and Superman 2 were released, the whole summer blockbuster thing had just gotten started. Superman was the first successful franchise following Star Wars. It redefined the superhero film. It gave an entirely new direction to action and adventure. In 1981, the world met Indiana Jones in Raider of the Lost Ark. Other films showed up: ET, The Road Warrior, The Terminator, Ghostbusters, Alien, Aliens, Back to the Future, Conan the Barbarian. By the time that Superman 4 showed up, trying recapture the magic of Superman: The Movie, a decade of innovation and excitement had changed audience's expectations. What once awed us was now expected.

Two years later, 1989, Batman took to the big screen. Warner Brothers had learned its lesson and gave the audience what it wanted.

Superman 4's main problem was it was the wrong film at the wrong time. The studio executives had failed to spot the changing public trends and gave them a film that could not resonate with film audiences.
Macbeth the Usurper

The Allies vs The Soviet Union Pt 3

The Allies didn't go on to fight the Soviet Union. They knew that they would need to solve some difficult problems. Given the difficulty of the problem, they knew that they would need new weapons systems and new approaches.

How difficult of a problem was this?

It's called the Cold War. Both sides tried out out-develop and out-manufacture each other, in an arms race, with neither gaining the superiority needed to ensure a victory until they mass-deployed nuclear missiles, which created MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). The Cold War is proof that neither side had a military path to victory against the other.

So when someone says, "Side X could have defeated Side Y," take a look at the weapons systems developed for the Cold War with idea that these weapons were prerequisites to any successful traditional assault on the other side of the world. The catchword here is "intercontinental."

For example, the B-52, an intercontinental bomber, was bid in 1946 and began service in 1952. Criteria for its development must have begun soon after VE day, if not while the war raged. They military knew exactly what it needed to defeat the USSR, and it didn't have those tools. Importantly, it wanted an bomber with a 5,000 mile range, which is double the range of the B-29.

The Cold War wasn't just war by proxy, it was an era where each side fully expected to fight the other to the death, and each side was actively preparing to do so. Forty years later, at the fall of the Berlin wall, neither side had declared victory.

Who would win if the Allies and the Soviet Union fought? Nobody. Despite the greatest economy in the world, stalemate was the best that anybody could produce.
Macbeth the Usurper

The Allies vs The Soviet Union Pt 2

So, if the Allies had actually fought the Soviet Union, what would they have to do in order to win?

I see a multi-pronged approach: 1) Western Europe, 2) Baltic, 3) Crimea, 4) Eastern Russia, 5) Sea, 6) Air.

The basic idea is to attach where the Red Army isn't, to stress supply lines, to damage industrial infrastructure, and to create air bases to penetrate further into the Soviet Union.

The East is the easiest and hardest front. The Russian will ceded that territory, giving the invader the long supply lines and extended front in exchange for few lost people or resources. Quite simply, any Siberian campaign would be a significant resource sink for the allies, requiring years of road building, without the Soviet Union spending a single resource. Even a token resistance force inside the area would have a large impact on American operations.

Control of the seas would come second, especially the Baltic and Black seas. The Allies would focus on constricting trade as their primary means of warfare. Their goal would be to strangles the USSR economy. While this can't deliver victory, this would be the most effective means of limiting their war machine.

No assault on the USSR could really succeed as long as its manufacturing base was safe, and that would mean a push by the Allies up the Crimea and into the Russian heartland. The Allies had the troop transport and logistical expertise necessary to begin and conduct such a naval operation, assuming that they had enough troops. (That's not necessarily a good assumption). Even so, it's a long way to the eastern Urals with a long, exposed flank. (Objectively, there is no good way to the eastern Urals.)

Meanwhile, the Red Army in German is a juggernaut and knows exactly how to push back a competent and vicious foe. The battle in the west will be brutal under even the most rosy scenario, sucking down troops and equipment.

The Russian challenge is how to knock out an enemy that's equally difficult to crack. They don't have extensive fleets, so how would they even build up a landing against England? Like Germany, they would face D-Day again. Meanwhile, the Allies are all through the Mid-East, with multiple footholds on the continent. They control all the major seaways. Effectively, the Allies can wage war incessantly should they desire, trading with the entire world, out manufacturing Russia on every measure. Their food comes from two hemispheres. They can move goods and services wherever they want.

Once committed to defeating the Allies, the Soviet Union has to take everything, because ever place that it doesn't take becomes a landing zone for the Allies. The entire coastline becomes vulnerable, and that's a whole lot of coastline. Defending it requires permanently encamped armies, each able to handle an Allied assault.

Most likely, the war would end with a negotiated truce. The Allies will have pushed back the USSR somewhat, and would trade territory in Europe for territory seized elsewhere. The overall borders would look very similar to the Cold War borders.

But what about tanks and planes? Yes, both sides would have them. They'd shoot at each other a lot, then factories would build more. Sometimes Americans would defeat Russians, and sometimes Russians would defeat Americans. There's far more to planes and tanks than rock/scissors/paper. No single set of numbers will tell you who would win because you need context, doctrine, and strategy of the combined military forces to even begin assessing the issue. The simple truth is that both sides had effective weapons and knew how to use them as part of their overall strategy and tactics. The best tank didn't automatically win and the worst tank didn't automatically lose. Tanks and planes may work that way in board games, but they don't work that way in real life.
Macbeth the Usurper

Allies vs Soviet Union after WW2

If the Allies had continued to fight to Soviet Union after the defeat of Germany, who would have won?

This is one of those perennially never-completed arguments, so I though that I'd have a little fun and give my answer to this impossible question.

First, we have to examine the idea of winning. Winning is where one nation achieves its military/political goal, which makes these goals non-symmetrical, thus you must rate success by each country in accordance to its own goals rather than victory through an arbitrary measure, such as crossing the finish line.

We know what happened in real life. The Allied powers thought about continuing the war into Russia, but on consideration, decided that pursuing that option was not desirable. Likewise, Russia made the same calculation and decided similarly. Both sides would have preferred to see a more total victory, but even Lenin saw his goal as unattainable.

I believe that the political powers of WW2 were correct in their assessment. If the war had continued in Europe, nobody would have won. Both sides would have failed to achieve their military and political goals. Given this conclusion, to continue the war would have been an unnecessary human slaughter. This didn't make the end of WW2 any less a mess, but it does inform us that the mess was preferable to a military solution.

But, what if the Red Army and the US Army had fought? In the short term, my money would be on the Red Army due to sheer numbers, and in the medium term, on the allies due to Russia's over-extended logistics and economy. In the long term, both sides would have settled on a peace. Many dead, little gained.
Macbeth the Usurper

Superman 3 (1983)

I find myself charmed by Superman III despite the flimsy nature of the film. It seems to stand astride two basic foundations, one the foundation laid down by the original Superman films, and the other by the 80's and what the suits wanted. As you can guess, these didn't go together well at all.

I found myself most charmed by the computers. Despite the fact that they really didn't act like computers at all, because the writers were pretty ignorant of computers of the day, they only had period computers to work with, and all the misconceptions about computers were period misconceptions, only workable in that period. We saw green screens, amber screens, keyboards, tape reels, and all other sorts of stock computer tropes, all slightly updated for the 80's and the personal computer revolution.

Not surprisingly, the big villain turned out to be a computer created by the supposed big villain (who was Not-Lex-Luthor and Not-Lex-Luthor's evil sister). This computer became self-aware, seized the evil sister, and turned her into a cyborg to fight Superman. I can't say that this is the first film that depicted the fear of computers taking over, but it certainly brought the subject out of the cult sphere and into mainstream conciseness. Computers strip away our humanity.

In that way, I suppose that S3 had the theme of humanity being stripped away, and without that, we become cruel. There's a place where Superman is split in half to fight his evil self. His human self is the part that wins, not his super self. It is then this human-superman that defeats the evil computer by using his human smarts. Despite their seeming divinity, computers, not matter how well programmed, are not our new gods, for even if they are all powerful, they cannot be all knowing.

This is re-emphasized with the updated Lana Lang, a "today's girl" who's a level-headed single mother struggling to raise her son well. She's got her act together, not like the flighty or defenseless women of previous decades, but also not aggressive, like Lois Lane. Her Superman is not a man who flies around with a cape, but a man who comes home and helps her to make a family, which makes Clark quite the Superman indeed.

What is humanity? Family. Middle-American values. Sober living. Sweaters draped across the shoulders and conservative dress. All the stuff that makes the Moral Majority happy. (There would be no more Superman bopping Lois Lane in the 80's).

The first two Supermans were products of the Carter era, or more importantly, the Post-Nixon era, where our icons have fallen and we really do need a new icon to stand up for America. In the 80's, we are now into the Reagan era, the Conservative have come into power, and the center of symbolism has changed.

The new villains are Corporations, not dictators, and their limitless ambition only worships at the altar of money. We saw this begin with Lex Luthor's in the first Superman, but then he was just this guy with an evil plan. This time, the villain leads and entire corporation. Out in the real world, this is an era when corporations are always changing their names (or so says Jefferson Starship), merging, and synergizing. Old corporate names are literally disappearing as new ones emerge, moving factories to other countries, and playing a new kind of economic politics to their own advantage.

The film makes strides against racism. I don't think that we saw a single black face with a speaking part in the last film, but in this one, the co-star is Richard Pryor, a black man. We also see a black fire chief amid a sea of white faces. Even so, the majority of all faces remain white and male.

The actual plot of the film is rather ridiculous, even by Superman standards, with an weak overall ending. The main villain creates fake kryptonite, which turns Superman evil, then splits him in two, but after he literally pulls himself together, flies off to defeat the evil computer which has run out of control. The story feels like a modern Hollywood film, where someone wrote a decent script, and then suits demanded changes until the whole film rattled along, good-enough, but not great. Honestly, I can't stay that it's any more incoherent or stupid than the latest X-Men film.

What missing from the film is everything 80's. If you will, this film depicts an idealized 80's, with no modern music, new wave fashion, punks, Japanese cars, smog, or anything else rejected by middle-America. In a way, the film de-urbanizes Superman, saving him from the East-Coast elites. It's only his return to middle-America that reconnects Superman with his White Christian American roots, that makes him a truly American again.
Macbeth the Usurper

Putting Together a Justice League Film (a thought experiment)

As a little thought experiment, let's lay out a Justice League film based on where the DC universe is right now.

We have five primary characters. Of those five, three will be "new" to the audience.

Wonder Woman

And new:

The Flash

This means that the film will need to introduce us to three new heroes and the villain(s).

At the moment, the DC universe does not have many villains/villain groups capable of matching the Justice League. We could go the multi-villain route, but that would require setting up around 5 villains to take on the five heroes. That's eight major characters introduced in one film. Our other alternative would be to introduce a single villain capable of delivering enough firepower to require five heroes. There aren't many villain groups like that in the DC universe, with Darkseid being the best known.

So based on the practical requirements of the film, if you don't want an epic monstrosity, you'd need to go the Darkseid route. Darkseid has faceless minions strong enough to provide fight, and enough power to to require the assembly of a Justice League.

If I was going to write a comic book, I would choose the opposite. Since comic books love to run many books, getting more villains is a bonus. I would have a group of villains ally together, learning to work together, just as the Justice League must learn to work together. When the showdown comes, both teams should have their issues worked out, meaning that the fight should feel like anybody's guess (even if we do know that the villains will lose). The villains will lose not because they aren't capable of winning, but when the stresses build enough, their seemingly settled problems flare up, and their base distrust of each other proves their undoing.